THE Lang Lang Holden Proving Ground is 877 hectares, slightly more than 2000 acres, most of it preserved bush. In a region which, once densely forested, has now just remnant pockets, the site is a unique parcel of West Gippsland coastal forest.
It is ideal for preservation for the environment and as habitat for endangered flora and the wildlife which once ranged this region. With the right government support, it might also be purposed for wildlife tourism, for indigenous culture and education, for complementary leisure activities, and as a research centre and breeding ground for wildlife affected by bushfire. This region is a centre for nature research and internationally famous for its wildlife tourism.
Given the loss of habitat in the West Gippsland region generally, and the recent vast losses of wildlife and habitat along the length (and inland) of the east coast, the 2000 acres of coastal forest covering this site makes it too valuable an asset to lose “to the property market” – too valuable to the local and broader environment and too important to the threatened species of the Westernport region.
The GM Holden subsidiary has benefited from Australian taxpayer support for all its 60-plus years in this market. Its manufacturing operations began with a £1 million grant to General Motors in 1947 from the then Chifley Government (equivalent to $62 million today). For the next four decades its profits were wholly protected behind a tariff wall.
It was, and remained, a wholly owned subsidiary of GM-Detroit. Since 2001, it has received $2.17 billion in direct state and federal government assistance, and yet, as shown by The Corporate Tax Transparency report provided by the ATO, has paid little (or zero) Australian tax over the same period:
2013-2014: General Motors (Holden) Gross Income: $4,138,128,813 - Tax paid: $0
2014-2015: General Motors (Holden) Gross Income: $3,704,748,755 - Tax paid: $0
2015-2016: General Motors (Holden) Gross Income: $4,272,332,765 - Tax paid: $0
2016-2017: General Motors (Holden) Gross Income: $4,601,580,614 - Tax Paid: $0
One day, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps in coming weeks, we will wake to an announcement that the sale of the site has been concluded and a new owner announced. General Motors needs money. Its gross profits are down by nearly 30 per cent since 2016, as is its net income, and it is still shutting down factories in the US. There won't be any sentimentality shown here, nor any interest in the long-nosed potoroo or the environmental value of that coastal forest. GM will simply want the money to repatriate to its balance sheets there.
The State Government and Bass Coast Council together have powers to ensure that the people of Victoria and the Bass Coast region specifically do not let this asset, and this opportunity, slip from their grasp.
Tim O'Brien is a Phillip Island writer and author. He held a senior executive role in the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce as managing editor of AUTO magazine and as General Manager of Government and Public Affairs. He later established The Motor Report, Australia's second largest independent automotive news site. He also owned and operated the Phillip Island Winery with Tricia his wife.
Not so fast, GM
March 6, 2020 - GM will probably seek to sell the Lang Lang proving ground to the highest bidder. Mikhaela Barlow argues that Bass Coast needs to stake its claim first.